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An Expert Answers 8 Frequently Asked Questions About Being Transgender

To answer some questions and dispel come common misconceptions, MTV News spoke with Nick Adams, a transgender man and the Director of Programs and Transgender Media at GLAAD.

After Bruce Jenner sat down with Diane Sawyer and shared that he is a transgender woman, we noticed that many of our readers had some follow-up questions.

We get it, you may not have heard any of this information before, and it's a lot to digest during one two-hour interview. Although transgender representation as improved immensely with TV shows like "Transparent" and "Orange is the New Black" offering nuanced and empathetic portrayals of trans people, there's still a lot of work to do: While 90% of Americans personally know someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, only 8% of Americans personally know someone who is transgender.

That's why it's important to get educated.

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To answer some questions and dispel come common misconceptions, MTV News spoke with Nick Adams, a transgender man and the Director of Programs and Transgender Media at GLAAD.

  1. First off, There's no [insert gender here] inside another [insert gender here's] body.
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    There are just people (who have bodies) who identify in the way that feels right for them, like Jenner said, on a "soul" level. Jenner was never a woman stuck in a man's body or any variation of that idea.

    "Bruce Jenner may have appeared to others to be male, but Bruce made it clear that his internal sense of himself was always female," Adams told MTV News. "And a person’s gender identity — which is their internal sense of being a man or a woman — is not visible to others, but is very real. When a transgender person, like Bruce Jenner, transitions, they are simply bringing their external body into a alignment with their internal sense of themselves, so that they can feel authentic and whole."

  2. Pronouns matter.

    During the interview, Jenner said the he was still using the name Bruce and he/him/his as his pronouns — the (typically gendered) words used in place of their name in conversation and press coverage. In the future, he may choose to use she/her/hers or they/them/theirs or any other pronouns that feel right for his particular identity. And, when he does, you should use them too.

    Activist and writer Tyler Ford told MTV News that it's super important to take the time to consider an individual's preferred pronouns and to try to avoid assumptions.

    "As an agender person who is often assumed to be either male or female (depending on random physical characteristics that people choose to assign to a certain gender), I never assume anyone's gender, no matter what they look like," Ford said. "To do so is to take away a person's agency, and possibly misgender them. As a result, I don't assume a person's pronouns, and default to using they/them/theirs until I ask about their pronouns, or until they make a statement."

  3. There's no such thing as 'too old' to transition.
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    Jenner is 65 years old and is transitioning. Some of you asked if that was too old, or why he bothered. Adams said it's never too late.

    "Some transgender people transition as young as grade school, while other people choose to transition later in life," Adams said. "It’s never to late to become your true and authentic self."

  4. Being trans has absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation.

    In the interview, Jenner said the two are like "apples and oranges," and that's pretty much it. Your gender has no bearing on who you're attracted to.

    "Sexual orientation is about who you’re attracted to, who you want to fall in love with, who you want to go to bed with," Adams said. "[Being] transgender is about who you want to go to bed as and who you are as a person."

    "I am a transgender man who was assigned female at birth, but I am attracted to men and have been with my partner John for 14 years. I am a gay man," Adams explained. "A transgender man who’s attracted to women — like Chaz Bono – is a heterosexual man. Bruce Jenner has not stated what his sexual orientation will be after his transition, but whatever it is, it’s not related to Bruce’s decision to finally become his true self."

  5. Transgender people are not sick.
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    The American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not consider identifying as transgender to be a mental illness. According to their guidelines, "a psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability."

    "Gender identity like sexual orientation is a innate and fixed part of one’s self and cannot be changed," Adams said.

    The APA guidelines also state that the significant problems and mental distress among trans people aren't caused by their gender, but instead by society's poor treatment of those who do not fall in line with the gender binary.

  6. It's not always easy to live your truth.
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    Transgender individuals face a lot of adversity on the road to living as their authentic selves, Adams said. A recent study by the Williams Institute found that 41% of transgender people have attempted suicide (compared to the 1.6% of the general population).

    "That suicide attempt rate is not because transgender people are more mentally unstable than everyone else," Adams said. "It’s because we live in a culture that makes it extremely difficult to come out as transgender and to access the medical care that allows one to transition."

    A study of transgender Americans found they are nearly four times as likely to make $10,000 a year less than the general population — despite the fact that 87% of transgender people have completed at least some college and 47% have earned college or graduate-level degree.

    Also, trans women of color are disproportionately found to be victims of violence. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 72% of LGBT homicide victims in 2013 were transgender women (the majority women of color.)

  7. Which is why transgender people's stories matter.

    A lot of you have asked "what's the big deal?" and have said that Jenner's announcement isn't newsworthy.

    It is, though. Already, since Bruce Jenner's interview aired, there's been a shift, even if it's just a small one.

    "Since [Jenner’s] interview aired on Friday night, literally hundreds of transgender people have done interviews with local news affiliates and local newspapers about what it means to live as a transgender person," Adams said. "That kind of visibility will help lawmakers understand the policy changes that we need to make it safe to be a transgender person in the United States of America."

    Representation in media matters. We all know that. But, when we're talking about a group that faces such regular discrimination and violence, it is imperative that they are seen in the media (and in our everyday lives) for what they are — complex people with inherent value.

    "For people who found [Jenner’s] story compelling, I hope that they will keep an open mind when they listen to other transgender people," Adams said. "Every transgender person’s story is different and every transgender person’s story is valid."

  8. Transgender people are normal a-f.

    Okay, let's get really real here:

    Trans people are literally just people: Trans kids know who they are: They just want to do things like go to school and play soccer and irritate their older siblings. Transgender parents just want to raise their kids right and maybe indulge in every-day parental embarrassment and, maybe, hone their pizza-making skills. Let's just let trans people do them and listen to what they have to say. That's definitely the best way for all of us to learn more.

Editors note: While Bruce Jenner has stated that he identifies as a woman, we have used the male pronoun throughout this article in keeping with his current stated pronoun preference.